By Libby Mitchell
When well known East London sportsperson and businessman Ricardo Groom died in 2017, his four children were left to run the family business, Eastern Cape Numberplates.
Three and a half years on, the unstinting help and generosity he bestowed on his community for decades has been credited for the survival of the business through the coronavirus pandemic.
Groom opened Eastern Cape Numberplates 26 years ago in Cambridge, close to its new location today.
Daughter Ronese said that she can clearly remember him telling her and her sister Ashnita and their brothers Nathan and Carlyle that it was because he wanted his children to be independent and to never have to answer to a boss.
Their family originates from Kgqeleni in the Transkei. Groom though was born in East London and worked for Premier Milling.
Groom served on the National Structure of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) and was part of the FAWU leadership that went to meet the ANC in exile for the liberation talks.
He was also caught up over thirty years ago in the Bhisho massacre but managed to escape with minor injuries.
Ronese said that her father helped countless people to fight for their rights with regards to labour relations and helped them with accessing their provident funds.
His campaign to help people continued even after he left Premier Milling and had started the family business, all during his free time and never charging anyone.
“I believe these bonds he formed with his comrades is what has kept many people returning to support us. I know deep down they come back because they are supporting him,” said Ronese.
He was an avid sportsman who belonged to the Oxford Striders running club and he ran both of South Africa’s ultra-marathons, the gruelling Comrades marathon in KZN and Two Oceans marathon in the Cape.
Groom in more recent years was a very keen participant in park runs. Ronese said he that was always encouraging others to join, motivating all lagging joggers to keep going.
He was involved in border swimming from a young age and started the Paranahas swimming club in Parkside. He was also a huge Bush Bucks supporter and attended every game he could.
This year his family decided to relocate the business from Fleet Street back to Cambridge where there was better customer parking.
The week of their move was the week South Africa’s coronavirus lockdown began.
The business closed immediately and didn’t reopen until May. “It was very quiet and we mostly just did number plates for ambulances and emergency vehicles. We had shortened hours but managed not to lay anyone off,” said Ronese.
For her, being a woman in a male dominated industry she feels that she is definitely undermined and spoken down to.
“It’s important to have a thick skin and be resilient and confident. Stand your ground, especially when you know you are right,” she said.
Working together as a family has its challenges too, but also its rewards. The siblings usually make time after the busy season to get away on holiday together.
The family’s goal for now is to recover from the pandemic financially and build the business up again.
Ronese said it hit them for six and they could not have survived without the support of their customer’s support. She says it’s thanks to their father.
“He loved helping people. Even after all these years we still have people coming into the shop, crying and reminiscing about how he helped them in their darkest hours. It is always so humbling to hear and makes us so proud that he was our father,” she said.